The corona pandemic meant an extraordinary psychological burden for many people. A study now shows that women and men felt particularly stressed from different aspects and dealt with stress and anxiety differently. According to this, women were primarily concerned about family and friends, while men’s professional concerns were in the foreground. Women also benefited more from support from those around them. According to the researchers, these results are in line with socially anchored role models.
In the spring of 2020, the corona pandemic changed the lives of most people in Germany: Leisure facilities remained closed, meetings with other people were severely restricted, travel was temporarily impossible and due to home office, home schooling and isolation regulations, families had to try for weeks to often meet their needs to coordinate in a confined space at home. Added to this was the fear that a virus, which was difficult to assess at the time, could seriously endanger their own health as well as relatives and friends.
Stress and worry during the pandemic
How has this stressful situation affected the quality of life and psychological well-being of people? And how did social support from other people influence this? A team led by Martin Weiß from the University of Würzburg has now dealt with these questions. The researchers paid particular attention to possible differences between men and women. “Psychosocial factors affect mental health and health-related quality of life in complex ways, but the gender differences in these interactions are still poorly understood,” explains the team.
For the study, Weiß and his team used a cohort of representatively selected volunteers from Würzburg between the ages of 24 and 85, who had originally been selected for a long-term study on cardiovascular diseases. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the program was spontaneously expanded to include the psychosocial effects of the pandemic, lockdown and other side effects. Between June and October 2020, a total of 1,520 women and 1,370 men answered a detailed questionnaire on their psychological well-being, their worries and fears and their social environment. Among other things, it was about family, professional and financial problems as well as how well the respective person feels supported by other people in their environment.
Men worry about work, women about family
Anxiety was found to be the strongest influencing factor on psychological well-being in both sexes. However, the research team found clear differences between men and women when it came to the reasons for fear: “In men, anxiety increases to an increasing degree with concern about their job, but this effect does not occur in women,” reports Weiß’ colleague Grit Hein. “In return, we were able to register an increase in women’s anxiety values parallel to an increase in concerns about family and friends.” According to the researchers, this result is in line with traditional gender role models, which in turn affect the expectations that the people in question have of themselves .
The team also found that for women, social support is an important factor in making them more resilient to stress and anxiety. For men, on the other hand, support from their personal environment did not play an important role in their mental health. “This is consistent with the traditional female family role, which includes a greater tendency toward close social contact and seeking social support to reduce stress and increase well-being,” says Hein.
Network of protective and damaging influences
However, it is still unclear to what extent the results generally apply to stressful situations. “Since the Covid-19 pandemic represented a very specific context, it still has to be clarified whether our results can be transferred to general, pandemic-independent situations,” say the researchers. From her point of view, it is important to consider psychosocial factors and psychological problems as a coherent network of protective and damaging influences in future studies, and to take possible gender differences into account. This could also have an impact on treatment approaches: “Our results underline the importance of taking social aspects into account in therapeutic measures in order to improve the mental health of women and men.”
Source: Martin Weiß (Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg) et al., Scientific Reports, doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-38525-8